Join composer Steven Melin of audio drama Dark Dice as we take a trip into a gigantic cinematic score for a Dungeons & Dragons actual play story. An immersive listening experience. Headphones recommended.
The piece of music we’re listening to in the background is called Devil’s Gamble. This is part two of a two-part break down. It’s a soundtrack I composed for the horror, fantasy, audio drama, Dark Dice. You’re listening to How I Make Music, where audio drama composers get to tell their own stories. Every Wednesday, we break apart a song and take a trip into how it was made. My name is Steven Melin. I’m a music composer in Atlanta, Georgia. And this is How I Make Music. Welcome back to How I Make Music, Devil’s Gamble by me Steven Melin. You can check out part one in the feed if you’d like. Either way, thanks for listening in. Dark Dice is a horror actual play DnD podcast that uses immersive soundscapes to create an added layer of intensity. The story is about six travelers who embark on a journey into the ruinous domain of the nameless God. They will never be the same again. Basically, what this means is, it’s a tabletop game, which gets recorded while the actors and the performers are playing it. So it is a real Dungeons and Dragons game. But during the recording, we’re using music to bring the story to life.
02:16 BOSS BATTLES
In the Dark Dice show, there are a bunch of boss battle moments. And this is when the intensity is increasing, there are stems. So they’re separate instruments. The producers can actually throw in any combo of these instruments at any time to help up the intensity. Where the intensity is increasing, they might throw in the drums. They might throw in the cello. Things that will help make it feel more intense. We’re actually working on a video game right now working on the soundtrack, which is going to be an extension of the Dark Dice universe. And we get to reuse some of those for actual boss battle moments in the games. So I’m really pumped about that! I’m a huge gamer. And that just fills my heart with all kinds of gladness.
04:03 HORROR HARP
So this is the this is the horror harp sounds like this. It’s a one-of-a-kind instrument. It’s over 100 years old. This is actually an empty harp passed down from my wife’s grandmother, way back in the Great Depression in the 1920s or 1930s. They couldn’t afford strings. So they put guitar strings on here. It’s never been tuned for 100 years, just about, and now it sounds like this. But it’s amazing. Ever since I used this for the first time on Dark Dice – it was actually this track – Travis just lost his mind and he thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Because it’s so messed up. And you actually hear the rattling wood in it, and it’s just creepy.
05:10 ALEATORIC VIOLIN
I’m a violinist, and I’ve been playing for about 20 years. But there are very cool times like this where we need these aleatoric random atonal sounds and so I’ll just pick it up and go crazy. Let me grab it, why not? You don’t have to be good an instrument to do that. You literally just you whack your instrument, whacking it with the wood, or just scraping it. It makes these glorious noises that have no business belonging in any soundtrack. listen out for glissandos and scrapes in sound effects that I’ve also recorded with the violin in the track.
06:07 PITCH BENT CELLO
Originally, when I was presented with this track, I wanted to have a low tension. So what I did is I recorded the solo cello. And I also asked them to record it a second time. And we did a pitch shift down an octave. So whenever you hear any of the cello, whenever it’s really scrubbing as hard as they can play, it just creates the perfect, rich tone that’s not muddy, but has the clarity that you get from a cello.
06:56 PERCUSSION BOX
So behind me in my studio whenever I work and have an inspired idea to add percussion, I just grabbed my percussion box. It’s full of all kinds of goodies that I’ve collected throughout the years. But some that have made it into this track Devil’s Gamble. Most notable is the tambourine, which may not seem like a very sophisticated instrument. But even just having those kinds of rattles in the background. That can actually add so much power, you’ll never get the intensity you want until you add the high range as well.
07:37 NOT QUANTIZED
So whenever I can I use samples, I use MIDI to get the low end. And I actually use an EQ to strip away the mids and the highs. And then I like to use real instruments recorded because of the sloppiness, I don’t quantize them, I don’t perfect them. I literally grab a tambourine or something like a shaker. Get that high end. A foreign drum like a duty back which sounds like this.
08:16 WOOD FLUTE
One of my favorite instruments to pull out of the box is a wood flute. This is actually a bamboo flute that’s been woodburned it it has this almost like a grave. Like a haunted sound. I’m aiming for notes. But even if you just blow on the lowest note. You add some reverb to that or some delay to that and you spread it out in the mix. It creates this hunting vibe. So I love to use this whenever there are softer quieter moments. It just let it soar on top. It’s got to feel human and musical.
In music theory, there is a chord or a an interval relationship called the tritone. It’s a sharp four or a flat five. And it’s known as one of the most evil and diabolical relationships in music. When I was writing this, I had no intention of using tritones. But it’s really funny thinking back and looking back at it that this is just completely filled with tritones. And that was totally unintentional. I think it’s one of the tropes that people lean into, because it works. So it was very subconscious but I think it’s also neat that that I usually The devil’s chord in Devil’s Gamble.
That’s about it for this week’s episode. We’ll listen to the full track in just a moment. But before we do that, thanks for listening to How I Make Music. Catch new episodes every Wednesday on Spotify, Apple or wherever else. We’ve been listening to music featured in the audio drama called Dark Dice. To hear the full story, follow the links in the show notes. Check out what’s on offer at patreon.com/howimakemusic. Visit howimakemusic.com for more on the aims of this show. How I Make Music is created by John Bartmann. For audio experiences that keep people listening, contact John Bartmann via the show notes. And now here’s Devil’s Gamble, a diabolical medieval battle track I wrote for the Dark Dice podcast in its entirety. My name is Steven Melin. Thanks for listening to How I Make Music. Catch you next Wednesday.
ABOUT THIS SHOW
How I Make Music is a dramatically edited sound experience where behind-the-scenes musicians get to tell their own stories. Every Wednesday, we challenge audio drama composers to break apart a song, soundtrack or composition and get into why and how it was made.
How I Make Music is created by John Bartmann. For audio experiences that keep people listening, visit johnbartmann.com